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C. Concrete conservation actions

C1. Implementation of a methodological proposal for the environmental risk assessment of genetically modified higher plants

In 2003, on behalf of the Italian Ministry of the Environment, an expert group developed a methodological proposal to support and allow a standardized assessment of environmental releases for experimental purpose of Genetically Modified Higher Plants (http://bch.minambiente.it/EN/Biosafety/propmet.asp). This methodological proposal is based on the assumption that the occurring of a risk, associated to the release of a GMO into the environment, is strictly related to the presence of four components and their interrelationships:

SOURCE DIFFUSION FACTORS MIGRATION ROUTES RECEPTORS

Where:

Source is the site where the organism is released and/or enabled to express its harmful characteristics;

Diffusion factors are linked to biological characteristics of the Migration route(s) and linked to chemical, physical, biological characteristics of the receiving environment;

Receptor(s) are organisms and ecosystems.

An operational model has been developed on the basis of the scheme and an electronic questionnaire is linked up to the model; the first implementation applies to genetically modified higher plants fields releases for experimental purposes. According to the methodological proposal, the user, responding to specific sets of questions, is able to follow a decision tree starting from the source and leading to the potentially affected organisms and ecosystem (if any) and to the identification of the related impacts (if any). The editing of the questionnaire gives a complete (deep) characterization of the diffusion factors and migration routes specifically for the GMHP and site assessed. The aim of this action is to apply the methodological proposal under field conditions. Thus, field studies will be set up in selected areas representative of the main Italian agro-environmental conditions and significant crops, yet authorized for the placing on the market in Europe (Maize and Oil seed rape). The action has two phases: the first is field trials monitoring, while the second one consists in data analysis. Monitoring is carried out to determine: gene flow and pollen dispersal of Brassica napus under field conditions (activity 1.1); assessment of pollen dispersal in the protected areas near experimental fields (activity 1.2); impacts on non-target species (activity 1.3); assessment of soil quality and microbial diversity (activity 1.4).

C2. Efficiency evaluation of existing agro-environmental monitoring networks
The first target of this action is to evaluate the suitability for GMOs monitoring of the programmes and the networks preliminarily identified in the action A2. With regard to the contents, links between existing programs and GMO monitoring are possible if: the existing programs cover the environmental media that are relevant to GMO monitoring (biota, air, soil, water bodies); the existing programs cover issues and parameters that are relevant to GMO monitoring; it is possible to extend the set of parameters and target species covered by existing programs; the existing programs cover geographic areas that are relevant to GMO monitoring; it is possible to compile and evaluate the data obtained through existing programs in such a way that the various issues of GMO monitoring are covered. With regard to the organisation and the structure, links between existing programs and GMO monitoring are possible if: long-term environmental monitoring can be secured and the monitoring is performed at intervals that are relevant to GMO monitoring; it is possible to combine the sampling activities of existing programs with GMO monitoring; the monitoring sites of existing programmes can be used as monitoring sites or reference sites for GMO monitoring. Once identified the networks suitable for GMOs monitoring, the next target is to evaluate the efficiency of these ones, through a field test, that should last not less than 2 years. Local authorities to be involved in monitoring activities will be better identified at the end of action A2 (Inventory of existing monitoring networks). At the end of the C2 (Efficiency evaluation of existing Environmental Monitoring Networks) the monitoring networks identified will be requested only to adapt their structure and operating protocols to include this additional goal (monitoring GMOs effects).

C3. Development of a Decision Supporting System software (DSS)
Based on the results of the former actions, the partner 2 will produce a software useful to guide users’ choices regarding the risk management of the deliberate release into the environment of GMOs. The software will be developed integrating the electronic questionnaire already developed by the Ministry of the Environment (described in section C1), to include the capacity to select the standard procedures for risk management strategies useful to minimize potential adverse effects on biodiversity and the appropriate indicators for the potential impacts monitoring. The DSS is built in order to aid the user to select among the possible mitigation measures available for the particular situation. The project team will revise the existing mitigation measures proposed under similar scenarios and suggest those considered most suited for the specific case. For example, safety distances from GM crops will be locally verified, the localization of potentially fertile species will be mapped, potential new species of conservation concern will be suggested, etc.

The development of the software foresees three steps:

  1. Accomplishing a version ß

  2. Test Version ß with future users

  3. Development of the final version.

The test phase will ensure an adequate exchange with the users increasing the possibility of its future adoption. The software will be completed with an user’s Manual. Action C3 will be initiated in the fourth trimester of year 2011 and will continue until the end of the project.

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